History of the American Church in Politics

We have been considering the issue of whether the evangelical church should engage in politics. Evangelicals are widely divided on this issue. We find, however, that the evangelical church did play a major role in politics in times past.

During the Revolutionary war the British referred to colonial pastors as the “Black Robed Regiment” because of the aggressive role that clergy played in supporting the American Revolution. They exerted substantial influence in the winning of American independence.

Likewise, we find that clergy played a significant role in promoting the cause of abolition of slavery prior to and during the Civil War. Charles Finney, probably the most prominent figure in the American Second Great Awakening, advanced the case for slavery being a sin. James E Johnson writes, “Finney was successful in linking evangelical circles to antislavery crusades.” Other ministers such as Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, aggressively advanced the cause of abolition.

These and other clergy motivated many Christian laypersons to engage in the abolitionist movement, resulting in the formation of influential organizations such as American Anti-Slavery Society. Arthur and Lewis Tappan, wealthy New York City Christian businessman, invested heavily in the anti-slavery movement. These Christian sources were highly influential in terminating slavery in the United States.

We see, then, that American pastors and the American church played a significant role in bringing about American freedom and the freedom of American slaves. Apart from this involvement these outcomes might have been different.

To a great extent American church leaders actively participated in politics until about the beginning of the 1900s. What occurred then to change the perspective of many evangelical leaders on this issue? That w will ill be our next topic.

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